*Story by Larry Kaplan
For all his accomplishments in the adult arena — championing the First Amendment and founding the Romantix adult stores, among others — Eddie Wedelstedt will most be remembered for his philanthropy.
Eddie Wedelstedt, a loving philanthropist, defender of free speech, and one of the primary architects of modern adult retail, died at his home in Colorado of stomach cancer on August 17 at age 78.
Wedelstedt, known to everybody as “Eddie W,” was an industry icon. An Air Force veteran, Wedelstedt founded Goalie Entertainment, the Romantix adult retail stores, and distributor M & M Sales parent company.
Wedelstedt was a staunch defender of the First Amendment, understanding its critical importance to adult businesses’ survival and helped start the Free Speech Coalition.
“He wasn’t afraid to fight a legal battle, on principle, but was willing to settle, in the right circumstances,” explains Bob DePiano, a Los Angeles First Amendment attorney who also served as Wedelstedt’s counsel. “Eddie saw First Amendment lawyers as integral long-term business companions. He enjoyed befriending attorneys. He understood the fight was endless and wanted attorneys available, on a first-name basis. He would hang out with myself and other attorneys, separate from business.”
DePiano explains what it was like to represent Wedelstedt.
“It was always easy to negotiate on his behalf because I knew I could trust his word and deliver it to those I was negotiating with. Eddie never wanted the upper hand or to get something over on anyone. That made it easy to create win-win deals.”
CalExotics President and CEO Susan Colvin met Wedelstedt in 1985, while operations director at adult products distributor CPLC. Colvin was assigned to accompany Wedelstedt to Tennessee to visit stores he was interested in purchasing. The importance of low-key store visits was underlined to her by her boss and the chain owner.
“Nothing about Eddie was low-key,” explains Colvin. “He was a big guy with a booming voice who didn’t dress low-key. He arranged a stretch-limo for transportation. After the first store, I got called, ‘You’re supposed to be low key; nobody’s supposed to know why you’re there.’ We continued to visit, but all the stores knew something was going on.”
Wedelstedt was known for his boundless energy.
“He was one of those people that never stopped moving,” notes DePiano. “He liked to keep busy, and he liked to work, and that combination made for an interesting and fun career. He had a habit of rocking, so he had rocking chairs wherever he went. Sometimes he would even ask hotels to provide the chairs.”
Wedelstedt loved animals. Colvin first discovered this on the Tennessee trip.
“At the last store, there was a kitten by the dumpster. Eddie took it inside. When the staff said nobody was caring for it, Eddie decided to take it home. We bought a travel case at a pet shop. Eddie bought it a first-class seat.
“I was so impressed,” remarks Colvin. “I thought he’s always been very nice and bigger than life. But he also has a heart of gold.”
Colvin remembers Wedelstedt’s love for Dairy Queen.
“Eddie’s favorite place is Dairy Queen. We were driving to the hotel after a car show in a three-car caravan. Eddie spotted a DQ on the other side of the road. He did a U-turn across five lanes to get there in front of traffic. The other two cars followed him and pulled into the DQ.”
At their peak, Wedelstedt’s Romantix stores numbered nearly 100. He got his supervisors pilot’s licenses to fly to the stores, which were in far-flung places. Wedelstedt owned a Lear Jet for his frequent visits to stores.
While Wedelstedt was larger-than-life, DePiano explains he was also unassuming.
“Eddie had a limo driver who wore a suit,” says DePiano. “Eddie usually wore black jeans and a white Goalie logo polo shirt. Everywhere we went, people thought the guy driving the car was the boss, and Eddie was the employee. We would tease him about it. What’s interesting is, he never changed it. He was very comfortable just being Eddie, everywhere he went.”
Wedelstedt believed in rewarding employees and bringing the industry together. He held a large annual week-long party with several significant events for both employees and industry people of all levels and spouses.
After staff meetings and supplier showcases all week, the weekend brought everybody together for parties and a lawyer’s brunch, which featured legal updates in the early years, but morphed into mock obscenity trials and other colorful events. There were nightly themed dinners and Saturday night’s event with big-name entertainment. Over the years, Wedelstedt featured, among others, The Village People, The Commodores, and The Platters.
Di Piano shares probably the greatest compliment Wedelstedt ever received. Wedelstedt ran into an ex-employee who told him about a secret Facebook group of ex-employees. The group’s focus is to share memories about how Goalie Entertainment was the greatest place they had ever worked.
Wedelstedt was a pioneer in the use of UPC codes for adult store inventory control. Beverly explains, “Eddie loved 7/11 coffee. He always stopped on the way to his office to get a cup. Eddie noticed that 7/11’s products all had UPCs that were scanned at checkout. He had constant problems with inaccurate inventories at his stores, making it impossible to know when and what to reorder. Employee theft, industry-wide, was rampant because Romantix and other adult retail owners lacked control of inventory. In the early ’90s, Eddie instituted a UPC system for merchandise that revolutionized his stores’ buying process.”
Colvin notes Wedelstedt was also a champion of equality “Eddie employed the first female store supervisors and regional supervisors I recall in the country, other than Peekays.”
With around 100 Romantix stores at its peak, Wedelstedt worked unceasingly to keep his finger on the pulse with each store. Colvin explains, “Eddie traveled all over the country and visited every one of his stores. I took a couple of road trips with Eddie. We flew and drove and flew and drove. At the end of each day, we would take his store staff to dinner. He always said, “It doesn’t matter what we’ve done during the day and the miles we’ve covered; I take them to dinner because that’s when I hear what’s really going on.”
Colvin shares a valuable lesson she learned from Wedelstedt.
“Eddie taught me to always communicate with your team,” notes Colvin. “Having events with them during the year is worthwhile. We have season tickets for most SoCal sporting events. Everybody in the company has an opportunity to go to an event. And we always have holiday parties. Watching what Eddie always did with his people motivated me. It establishes camaraderie and provides a non-controversial topic of conversation with our team that’s not work-related.”
Tampa First Amendment attorney Luke Lirot worked on some of Wedelstedt’s Florida stores.
“Eddie was widely respected,” explains Lirot. “The thing I liked most about him was the air of dignity and his effort to strive for business excellence in all of his businesses, no matter what society’s view of them was. Eddie was a great guy who, I believe, would have been dramatically successful in any field. It was all of our good fortunes he decided to take on the never-ending gauntlet of issues facing adult entertainment. He gave off an unparalleled charismatic vibe. It was like being near royalty.”
Las Vegas First Amendment attorney Clyde DeWitt knew Wedelstedt for 35 years and sees him as highly multidimensional.
“First and foremost, he was the consummate gentlemen, chivalrous and proper in every way,” notes DeWitt. “A little rough around the edges, but that was part of Eddie’s charm.
“But when it came to business, Eddie was an unparalleled perpetual motion machine. His love for business was the fuel that propelled him and kicked in his afterburners.
“Eddie and I shared a love of hockey. And, like other dyed-in-the-wool hockey fans, neither of us could understand why everyone didn’t love the sport.
“I was delighted to learn that his beloved Eddie’s Kids is well-funded and will live on. An untold number of people will grow up fondly remembering Eddie’s Kids without knowing anything about the wonderful person who was the benefactor.”
Wedelstedt believed in giving back, both to the industry and the community, particularly to underprivileged children. In 1992, he started his charity, Eddie’s Kids. Denver Nuggets executives agreed to match 25 season tickets Wedelstedt bought for giveaways to needy kids with 25 more. That was the start of the Eddie’s Kids charity, which has since given away a whopping 1.5 million tickets to deserving kids, families, teachers, and service members. Unlike almost all charities, Wedelstedt—and now his estate—pay all the administrative costs. So 100% of donations go straight to purchasing tickets.
“Eddie wanted no glory or credit for his foundation, but it would never have happened without Eddie and his staff,” explains Paul Andrews, former Executive VP of Kroenke Sports, the owner of the Nuggets and Avalanche and Wedelstedt’s friend. “Eddie told everybody he knew that he loved them, and at some point, gave each a big hug and a kiss on the cheek because that’s what legends do. It comes down to Eddie’s compassion and love for people, especially kids. And that made Eddie, The Legend.”
Wedelstedt’s passion for enabling kids who might not have gotten to see major sporting events sprang from the fact that he never really had a childhood and could never attend such games. At 11, he started his first entrepreneurial endeavor, washing cars. In his teen years, he had three jobs. He got little sleep but helped keep a roof over his family’s head.
Wedelstedt’s daughter, Beverly Wedelstedt, who worked with him her entire life, notes that his childhood molded him into an incredibly generous person.
“When Eddie was eight or nine, during the Great Depression, his family had little money,” explains Beverly. “One day, Eddie was home, heard a noise and walked toward his bedroom. He saw his parents taking money from his piggy bank to pay bills. Eddie quietly turned around to walk away. His grandmother was there, took him in the other room, and asked how what he had just seen made him feel. He replied, ‘I know my role in life now. I’m the provider.’”
“He had to, by necessity, become an adult at a very young age to be his family’s breadwinner,” adds Beverly. “He learned to show love by providing money.”
Lion’s Den founder Mike Moran recalls Wedelstedt as a fascinating dinner companion.
“He demanded service and tipped well for that service and for any service from valet to maître d’ to the drive-through cashier,” recalls Moran. “At dinner, his standard was two buckets of ice next to him with ice and Perrier, and an assorted fruit plate. He would make his concoction of wine spritzers, later with non-alcoholic wine, after he quit alcohol, and drink that all evening.”
Moran reminisced about Wedelstedt’s storied earlier days.
“Eddie was quite a gambler and a partier at one time and certainly one of the famed Las Vegas whales,” explains Moran. “The casinos took great care of him. He met Elvis and hung with the Rat Pack and had great stories about Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the others. The way Eddie would party, I’m sure they enjoyed his company. He never did drugs; he just liked liquor and smoked a ton, which eventually took his life.
Michael Warner met Wedelstedt 47 years ago at his father’s magazine distribution company and is familiar with Wedelstedt’s generosity.
“He’d give you the shirt off his back,” explains Warner. “He had a big heart. He was a really good person. And he was very quiet about helping others; he wouldn’t flaunt it, never did it for the glory.”
To contribute to Eddie’s Kids or for more information, visit eddieskids.org or call Beverly Wedelstedt at (303) 570-2051.